SLAM Online: LeBron is Q-Proof

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Slam Online/Kyle Stack

The Miami Heat truly could become the villains of the NBA. Without ever having committed a crime, or even a memorable on-court infraction, the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh triumvirate have alienated the public like nobody imagined they could. At least that’s the indication from a recent poll by The Q Score Company.

The Manhasset, NY company discovered in a poll taken after LeBron made “The Decision” July 8 that far more people have a negative opinion of James, Wade and Bosh than before — James most notably. In a poll of 1,800 respondents, 39 percent view James in a negative light. That’s 14 percentage points higher than what James received in a similar poll conducted in January when 25 percent had a negative view of James. Only 14 percent of respondents view him in a positive light whereas that figure was 24 percent in the January poll.

Likewise, Dwyane Wade’s positive Q score over the same timeframe declined from 21 to 15 and his negative Q score rose from 18 to 25. Chris Bosh’s positive Q score fell just from 13 to 12 but his negative Q score soared from 21 to 35, perhaps under the perception that he tagged along for the ride. (Wouldn’t you do the same if a team was offering you $100-plus million to be the third banana behind two future Hall of Famers in their prime?)

To give those figures some perspective, Henry Schafer, executive vice president of The Q Scores Company, told CNBC’s Darren Rovell that the average sports personality has a 15 percent positive score and a 24 negative score.

There are two prevailing questions from this study: 1) How is a Q score determined, and 2) What does this mean for Miami’s three stars, specifically for James?

The first one is easy to answer.

Schafer told SLAMonline that his company conducts a national study every six months on 1,750 celebrities in the entertainment and sports fields. Poll respondents from a variety of socio, economic and racial groups — based on different ages, education levels and income levels — are asked if they are familiar with the individual at hand. If so, they’re then asked what their feelings are about the person based on what they’ve read, seen or heard about him or her in the last year. Some people are indifferent. Others have an opinion and aren’t afraid to state it, as is apparent with James receiving such a sharp rise in his negative Q score.

But what does this mean? Will James suddenly lose all his sponsors? Will his popularity with fans, once so strong, forever be compromised? Not exactly, said Alan Siegel, Chairman and Founder of the worldwide branding consultant firm Siegel + Gale.

“If he has a really good season and starts to behave intelligently, I think people will begin to accept him,” said Siegel, who used former Lakers great Jerry West as inspiration design the NBA logo in 1969. Siegel likened James’ situation to that of Tiger Woods. Despite Woods’ reported infidelities and his subsequent divorce to his wife, many sports fans are still rooting for him to win each tournament in which he plays.

Such loyalty to sports figures who make questionable decisions is not uncommon, according to Ed O’Hara, Senior Partner at SME, a New York City brand consultant firm. He thinks the public is used to ego-driven athletes, that it’s sort of expected in our society for athletes to behave that way.

“I think we were spoiled by LeBron because he seemed so regular and like us for awhile,” O’Hara said. Yet whatever James has done to put a dent in his public image, O’Hara is confident things will return to normal for James.

“A lot of things went on this offseason,” O’Hara said. “It hasn’t hurt LeBron, none of his sponsors have dropped him…his jersey will probably be pushing Kobe [for the top seller] once the season starts.”

When asked his thoughts on Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s claim that James lost roughly $1 billion in brand equity because of “The Decision,” O’Hara claimed James could make that up. “If he goes out and wins a championship, he’ll gain $3 billion.”

If it feels that James is bullet-proof in the long run, it’s because whatever he has done to offend folks really isn’t as bad as what other athletes’ past circumstances. Kobe Bryant has had the top-selling jersey at the NBA Store and on the past two seasons despite all his negative perceptions over the years, whether it was from his 2003 sexual harassment trial to all his years of bickering with Shaquille O’Neal in Los Angeles.

Ray Lewis went from a murder trial suspect in 2000 to doing commercials for the NFL just a few years later. All it might take for Woods to regain his footing in the marketing and sponsorship world is to win another major. James, who was the sixth-most disliked athlete in the recent Q score poll (Bryant, incidentally, was ranked fifth), could be a victim of his sport, said Siegel.

“The thing about basketball that’s so interesting is that it’s so human,” Siegel said. “There are five guys on the court, there are uniforms with no helmets. There’s more intimacy to it. The season is so long and there’s so much coverage of it that people tend to have a closer identification to it.”

O’Hara said that if James should go do public work with his charities, do some community service and simply move forward. Soon his play will speak for itself.
While Siegel admitted that the Q score is a modest indicator to advertisers of how people are viewing an athlete at a particular time, he stated James shouldn’t sweat his high negative Q score.

“I’d say that this is an aberration. He’s going to overcome it.”

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Tags: athletes, basketball, branding, image, Kobe Bryant, lebron james, Marketing, miami heat, NBA, pro sports, Q Score, SME, Sports